polling stationSo all three of the big UK-wide parties have now published their manifestos for the coming General Election on June 8. Here's my take on the Sustainability elements of the three:

Conservatives

The Tory party manifesto is the only one of these three to champion shale gas extraction (aka fracking) and make a commitment to the (rapidly declining) oil and gas industry. They say they "do not believe large-scale onshore wind power is right for England", but state later that there is opportunity in Scotland. Despite this there are multiple nods to showing leadership on climate change and investment in low carbon energy.

The Tories have already said they will 'borrow' Labour's previous energy price cap policy, despite warning at the time that this could damage investment in low carbon energy. On domestic efficiency, the Tories say they will all fuel poor homes reach EPC band C by 2030, review energy efficiency rules for new homes, offer smart meters to all homes and business by the end of 2020. Business will get a new industrial energy efficiency scheme.

On transport there are nods towards improved rail infrastructure and cycling networks, but the biggest commitment to make almost every car and van being zero emission by 2050. Heathrow will be expanded.

Waste/recycling only gets a passing mention.

Labour

There are plenty of references to environmental issues throughout the Labour Manifesto, with a headline target is to have 60 per cent of the UK’s energy from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030. Other concrete commitments include banning fracking, planting a million trees, a new clean air act, investing in cleaner engines for buses, prohibiting neonicotinoids and insulating four million houses. Plus there are commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and to respect environmental protections post-Brexit.

Given Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn's long-time anti-nuclear stance, it is interesting to see a commitment to not only maintain but expand nuclear energy. It appears that the Unions insisted on this inclusion.

Waste gets a vague to commitment to recycle more, particularly plastic bottles.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems are the only one of the three who have a complete chapter of their manifesto dedicated to the Environment (the other two scatter their pledges across the document).

Similarly to Labour, the Lib Dems would ban fracking, more than double green electricity to 60 per cent by 2030, ensure that 4 million properties receive insulation retrofits by 2022, and suspend the use of neonicotinoids. But they go beyond by pledging, a Zero Carbon Britain Act, restoring the Zero Carbon Standard for new homes, increasing the standard steadily and extending it to non-domestic buildings by 2022 and to expand community energy schemes, encourage councils to develop community energy saving projects and local electricity generation and promote city-scale demonstration projects in electric vehicles and clean energy.

They also pledge to prevent 40,000 premature deaths a year by cutting air pollution, through:

  • A diesel scrappage scheme, and a ban on the sale of diesel cars and small vans in the UK by 2025.
  • Extending Ultra-Low Emission Zones to ten more towns and cities.
  • All private hire vehicles and diesel buses licensed to operate in urban areas to run on ultra-low emission or zero emission fuels within five years.

In stark contrast to the other two parties, the Lib Dems have comprehensive waste proposals:

  • Pass a Zero Waste Act, including legally-binding targets for reducing net consumption of key natural resources, and introducing incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency.
  • Benefit consumers by promoting better product design to improve repairability, reuse and recycling.
  • Establish a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England and extend separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2022.
  • Building on the success of our plastic bag charge, introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to reduce waste.
  • Establish a coherent tax and regulatory framework for landfill, incineration and waste collection, including reinstating the Landfill Tax escalator and extending it to the lower rate and consulting on the introduction of an Incineration Tax.

Summary

To be brutally honest, for an election which was called over Brexit, I am relieved at how much Sustainability content there is in all three manifestos. Here's how I would summarise the three:

  • The Conservative manifesto could be characterised as trying to move in a low carbon direction without casting off the ball and chain of fossil fuels.
  • The Labour manifesto is much more coherent but, with the exception of the firm headline commitments listed above, it is patchy and smacks at times of lip service, particularly when it comes to waste and recycling.
  • As a member of the Lib Dems, I'm prejudiced but it is impossible to deny the party's environmental proposals are clearly much more comprehensive and thought through than the others – scaling from quick fixes like a coffee cup tax through to high level zero carbon legislation.
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